SAN FRANCISCO — I’ve had an eye-opening few days in the Bay Area. I came here last week, as I explained in my Monday column, as The MMQBbegins an eight-week series taking the temperature of football at all levels across the United States. In an era when there are so many cautionary tales about the future of football—and rightfully so—we wanted to see for ourselves how the country feels about football, and the importance of the game in our society.
At a high school football game Friday night featuring inner-city San Francisco kids from Mission High School, and then at youth games in Oakland on Saturday morning, I got the other side of the football-is-too-dangerous story. You can read this Thursday at The MMQB, and see Tiff Oshinsky’s compelling video on the life of football in the Bay Area as well. Hat-tip to State Farm for their partnership with The MMQB, helping make this series possible.
And when I opened your mail Tuesday morning, I found this from a local high school football coach. I wanted to share it, because it says so much about the importance of the game, and of coaches, and of kids persevering with the game in a time of such uncertainty about it.
The letter was from Bret Yeilding, a Bay Area coach. It reads:
My son played Pop Warner football in Sunnydale (frequently he was the only white kid on the team) and a lot of his buddies went to Mission High. I coach high school football in the Bay Area. San Mateo is not a strong program but the San Mateo kids don't worry about having food and shelter at night. The Mission kids do. What all those public school coaching staffs in SF are doing is nothing short of a miracle. I spent three or four years helping coach my son's teams. The kids were great. They just wanted to know if you cared about them, like kids everywhere. But their surroundings just sucked them in. The kids did not see themselves getting old. Too many of them saw their siblings killed, or jailed for long periods of time. One of my son’s teammates had been shot accidentally; he was 10. He was later shot and killed on a street corner. I used to drive my Prius into Sunnydale … never had any trouble. One kid needed me to call him when I was close, so he could come out and lie down in the back seat. His older brother was in the wrong gang and this little boy was worried about getting shot if he stood on the corner.
That, folks, is the atmosphere so many of these football-playing high school students encounter. The co-coach of Mission High, Lamar Williams, told me lots of their players get caught up in “the tornado. You lose kids for sure.” On Friday night, I met one senior, safety/wideout Jamal Dixon, who started at Mission High in an ankle-bracelet-monitoring device, and who saw something at age 10 that no child or adult should ever have to see, and who has used football—and academics—to have a hope in his life.
I struggle significantly with young people playing tackle football, particularly pre-high-schoolers. The future of football in many communities across the country is at stake. But I urge you to take a few minutes Thursday and read about my trip to see four levels of football in 48 hours, and to see how Jamal Dixon and his Mission teammates affected me. Give us your feedback at email@example.com.
Now for your email...
ANOTHER VIEW ON ZEKE QUITTING
I understand and appreciate your criticism of Ezekiel Elliot's effort on Sunday. However, as a longtime Broncos fan, I vividly remember a similar play when Terrell Davis never quit. The play ended with a lineman rolling up on T.D.'s leg and ending his career. Quitting is never a good thing, but, in that situation, I just want my star running back to get out of the way. It's Week 2, in a non-conference road game that is already lost. Live to fight another day.
Disagree. The play happened in the middle of the third quarter with Dallas down 18. Game over? I don’t think so. Regarding the Davis play: So, on turnovers when the defense is making a return, which players do you want to pursue the man with the ball? Linemen only? Should the tight end be involved? I take it you think any stars should not be in pursuit. What if you have an all-pro tackle? I take it you propose the coach, during practice in training camp, tell the four best offensive players, including the quarterback, “As soon as you see a turnover and a defensive player is returning the ball, you four guys immediately go to the sidelines. The other seven guys on the field, you guys try to make the tackle.” Maybe I’m exaggerating your point. I’m sure I am. But the fact that Terrell Davis got a freak knee injury trying to make a play should not mean that key players get out of the way on an interception or fumble return.
DAN THINKS ZEKE DID NOT QUIT
I don't see it as Elliott quitting on that play. The game was in no way winnable at that point (28–10). Dallas was the dog ALL game long and wasn't going to do anything. Elliott saw the INT and shrugged. His chasing wasn't going to change anything. You want to blame someone on that play, blame Dez Bryant for the lackadaisical catch attempt.
I just don’t get “the game was in no way winnable” thing—and Dan, you’re not the only one who said that. At the time of the pick, Dallas was down by 18 points and had six possessions the rest of the game. Despite how poorly the Cowboys were playing, do you honestly think they could not have scored three times in the last 21 minutes of the game? I just don’t see it the way you do. But thanks for your input.
Peter, I saw the play in question where Ezekiel Elliott just stood there after an interception. If he needs a reminder about doing his job, have him look at this video. That man chasing the guy who made an interception? The 6'3", 325-pound guy? Hall Of Fame Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Larry Allen. In his rookie year. Zeke he won’t be getting a bust in Canton if he continues to take that attitude, the way he did in Denver.
That video says it all, L.G. Thanks.
WHAT ABOUT THE DOLPHINS?
Just reading MMQB and surprised there wasn't a little more on the Dolphins’ (or Bucs’) first win. Of all the storylines this week, Miami playing in L.A. after fleeing a hurricane and having to hunker down for a week in California should be a little more story worth. So I understand the MMQB is just one column and you can only fit so much, but really? I hope there’s something coming this week spotlighting the Dolphins (at least a little bit) because only seeing you mention Lawrence Timmons and Younghoe Koo’s missed kick seems pretty lacking. Throw Dolphins fans a bone. Buccaneers should get some talk too considering how good they looked after dealing with similar circumstances.
I appreciate your respect, Brian. Thank you, and very good points. The Dolphins and Bucs deserved some coverage this week. I should have explained better in my column Monday. Last weekend, I went on the road for a special project, which I described higher in this column. When I do that, I can’t devote the time to the other things that I usually do. It gets exacerbated when I cover one of the late games, and I can’t watch the early Sunday games because I’m occupied working a story, as I was in the Raider parking lot before this game. So there are going to be times this year when I am covering a game when I don’t do as good a job on all 32 teams as I would if I was in position to watch chunks of every game. I’d be interested to know from readers and consumers of my column if they think my 1,230 words on the Raiders and the tailgate and the post-game scenes and Marshawn Lynch and the one-on-one with Derek Carr, collectively, is worth a day when my coverage of other events is less insightful than during a normal week. If you’d like to vote on this, give me your vote and a reason or two why at firstname.lastname@example.org. The question … Do you prefer that:
• I focus every week on a general view encompassing something on nearly every game.
• I focus on a general view, with maybe four to six columns during the regular season and playoffs when I try to take you deeper inside a team or a story the way I did this week with the Raiders.
I’ll let you know next week which way you guys voted. Please share your opinion.
TALKING TACKLING FORM
Watched the FOX broadcast of the Washington-L.A. Rams game and was impressed specifically by one call made by analyst Chris Spielman. In the third quarter with approximately nine minutes remaining, Jared Goff completed a pass across the middle to a receiver who was immediately tackled. Spielman commented on the respect a receiver gains when staying in the middle and taking a hit, but also made specific mention about the quality of the hit by the defender and the manner in which he didn't lead with the head. I thought the focus on the tackling form and safety was something more commentators should do as it is too frequently overlooked.
Excellent point, Rob. I went back to the third quarter and searched for the play. Rams tight end Gerald Everett caught a pass in the open field and was exposed to a potential big hit. But Washington safety Montae Nicholson lowered his shoulder and hit Everett shoulder-to-shoulder. No head in the play. This is what Spielman said on FOX: “Outstanding job by Montae Nicholson—this needs to be promoted—taking the head out of the game and leading with the shoulder. Beautiful.” Really good point by Spielman, who I know to be hugely concerned with this issue. Thanks for pointing it out.
I wouldn't call myself a draftnik or anything but I do follow it to a certain degree, especially when it pertains to my team, the Cowboys. My question is, prior to the draft, were there "red flags" about Ezekiel Elliott? If there were, I don't remember hearing about any of them.
—Dave G., San Antonio
There were red flags, Dave, mainly about Elliott’s partying. But none that I recall about his effort. I remember at the combine people talking about his willingness to block, which is usually a good sign when it comes to a star player’s ethos. But the other stuff I never heard about.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF JOE THOMAS’ STREAK
Was I the only one who noticed the juxtaposition of lauding one league for removing padded practices and exposing players to fewer unnecessary hits, and celebrating Joe Thomas for refusing to take even one play off no matter how meaningless?
—David, Barrie, Ontario
That’s a fair point, David. If Thomas was rushing back from head trauma, I’d be concerned. And you’re right: It’s a strange juxtaposition to be celebrating what the CFL is doing by eliminating in-season padded practices through the end of the 2018 season while at the same time celebrating a guy playing with injuries. It’s something I was a little tone deaf on. Thanks for pointing it out.
RODGERS’ 300 TOUCHDOWNS
Though the Packers’ loss was nothing to write about, I thought Aaron Rodgers may have made your Factoids as the fastest QB to 300 touchdowns in the NFL.
—Rob, Appleton, Wis.
And now here it is. Thanks for bringing it up.
As you noted, the continuous fighting between the league and the players is wearisome. I firmly believe this crazy stuff has more to do with the ratings decline than Colin Kaepernick. Fans hate it when a referee takes over a game, and that’s what the current commissioner is doing—we need to get rid of the off-field drama and focus back on the game. Why in the world are they talking about an extension for Roger Goodell? I think the owners are out of touch with the damage that’s being done here.
I hear this a lot, and the owners are still (mostly) in lock-step with their commissioner. We’ll see if it lasts, but the players and the fans are so significantly anti-Goodell right now that I wonder if it’s doing any real damage to the game.
RITUAL COFFEE AND THE RAIDERS
Ritual Coffee in the Haight used to be my Chinese dry cleaners. It was a dump, but a good one. Mandarin radio blasted out of a transistor radio so loud you couldn’t hear them shout instructions to you in Chinese. Also, please remember that Raiders fans have always been great. We’ve shown up in costumes with joy for 20 years despite being awful. Mark T. in your article is right. The league has given Oakland the middle finger and gone for more money. It’s like leaving Fenway or Wrigley. At least we can still dance. It shouldn’t be surprising to see Beast Mode giving hair cuts and being a real person because isn’t that why we fell in love with sports originally? Otherwise it’s E-Sports and no hair cuts, just fancy coffee.
Good email. I’ll miss dumps like the Coliseum, and the pure love of the game from fans who wouldn’t care if the Raiders played at Oakland High. Will that happen in Vegas? No one knows.
While Nolan is a great player, I don't think his winning three RBI titles is a big deal. Coors Field is too big an advantage for the Rockies hitters. Look at his (their) splits. When he won it last season, he had 85 RBIs at Coors and 48 on the road. That's a huge difference. This year he's at 72/53. Not as dramatic but then look at the splits for his competitors: Goldschmidt 58/57. Stanton 55/58.
History will note—barring Nolan Arenado being overtaken in the last 10 days of the season—that he’ll be the first National League player in 39 years to win the RBI title three years in a row. Whatever the conditions at Coors Field (and you can mentally asterisk them if you’d like, and it may be fair to do), the numbers are the numbers. I’d also say that only one Rockies players (Andrews Galarraga) has ever won two RBI titles in a row. Arenado will be the first to win three.
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